11.0507 sacred computer

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Sun, 11 Jan 1998 20:44:42 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 507.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Fri, 09 Jan 1998 17:50:03 +0000
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: sacralization of the secular

"A wild question: could it be that the democratic ideal of secularism is a
dogma that threatens the freethinking pluralism of democracy as we
experience it? One possible answer: suspicion of secularism is warranted by
the fact that most contemporary secularists unthinkingly sacralize it.
Secularists suppose that, during the past few generations, religious
illusions have gradually disappeared, and that this is fortunate, since the
extrusion of religious sentiments from such domains as law, government,
party politics and education - the separation of Church and State - releases
citizens from irrational prejudices and promotes open-minded tolerance,
itself a vital ingredient of a pluralist democracy. The modern quest for
personal meaning and salvation has, it is argued, taken the place of
religion, becoming what Thomas Luckmann calls the 'invisible religion' of
'self-expression' and 'self-realization'." (John Keane, "The limits of
secularism: Does the marginalizing of religion impose a new intolerance?",
TLS 4945, 9 January 1998: 12).

Here may be a much broader discussion of a topic that has surfaced on
Humanist from time to time as we have struggled with a certain kind of
enthusiast among our ranks. I'm thinking of various people I have known who
have embraced the computing of the humanities with fervour because, it
seems, the machine represents a long-awaited means of proving acts of the
imagination, finally of doing away with interpretation and its leap of faith
so that we may build our scholarly work on a solid foundation. But whether
or not the apotheosis of computation is analogous to this sacralization of
the secular, I have a question for you, or rather a request for reflection:
what happens to the interpretative act when computing is involved in
research? Is it the same, or different? If different, how? By being forced
to resolve matters that before we could let pass, are we gaining, or losing,
or both?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801
e-mail: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk

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